EAAers in action
in the spotlight
Helicopters and dummies
DI FREEZE, EAA 712300
Jeff Dunham, one of the most popular and successful
stand-up acts in North America, creatively ties together
two passions: helicopter building and flying and
“Look inside one of the heads of my dummies and there’s
some technology in there that I learned from building
helicopters, especially model helicopters, including
linkages and just making everything work smoothly and
perfectly,” Jeff said. “Another thing I learned from building
model helicopters is that you
have to build it so it doesn’t
It’s hard to say if Jeff, who
tickled the funny bones of
EAA AirVenture Oshkosh
attendees last year and
will do so again this year
on Saturday, August 1, in
Theater in the Woods, fell
first for dummies or flight.
When he was a child, his
favorite toys were always ones that would fly, “particularly
any helicopter toys.” Then again, when he was 8, a dummy
in a toy store held a similar allure.
“I was fascinated with the idea that an inanimate object
could become animate—actually come to life and have a
personality,” he said. “Animatronics are interesting. The
mechanics of robots, like at Disney World or wherever,
are interesting, but to me, ventriloquism was much more
interesting, because there’s that human dynamic there. It’s
not a robot. It’s not preprogrammed. You don’t know what
that little guy is going to say; if the ventriloquist is a good
technician and a comedian, it doesn’t get much funnier
Although Jeff would make a living out of being a
ventriloquist/comedian, helicopters have added one thing
in particular to his life: a much needed diversion.
“The building and the flying have brought me countless
hours of education and enjoyment,” he said.
Jeff became interested in radio-controlled model
Photo courtesy of Rotor Way International
helicopters while he was a freshman in college, and built
and flew them for many years.
The radio-controlled model helicopters gave him a
unique insight into how rotorcraft worked and their flight
characteristics, plus it taught how unforgiving they can be
when not built, maintained, or flown correctly. After flying
the models, he began thinking about actually building and
flying a full-sized machine.
“I couldn’t turn my back on the idea,” he said.
“The building and the flying have
brought me countless hours of
education and enjoyment.”
During his senior year at college, he became aware of
RotorWay International, the world’s oldest and largest
kit helicopter manufacturer. In 1986, at the age of 24, he
purchased his first kit, a Rotor Way Exec.
“I was their youngest builder/pilot to date,” he said.
“The price was reasonable, and it just seemed like a great
adventure waiting to take place.”
Jeff said that the education he received when it came to
using so many different tools and building materials and
techniques is unequaled.
“In the early kits, back in the late ’80s and early ’90s,
you had to lay up some fiberglass and work with sheet
aluminum,” he said. “There was still a little bit of welding
to do, so I even taught myself to weld, with the gas, oxygen
acetylene. That was quite a task. Now they’ve gotten the
kit so sophisticated that you don’t have to do that.”
He added that when he purchased his first RotorWay
kit, he didn’t even know what a carburetor looked like. “I
had built the models, and obviously, there are carburetors